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What to do After Finishing the Couch to 5k

Completing the first non-stop 5k run is a huge accomplishment for many beginner runners.

You’re not just increasing fitness but creating routines around exercise, learning how to pace yourself and prevent injury among many other things.

The application required to follow a fitness programme of two to three runs per week plus stretching, strength and self massage is huge especially when considering few have been doing any structured exercise for years if not decades.

On completing your 5k the temptation is to stick to running 5k or less as opposed to continuing to build distance towards 10k.

There are benefits and disadvantages of this approach which I'll discuss below but before we go there it's important to address confidence...

Many new 5k runners feel the same way about running 10k as they used to about running 5. The challenge of going from 0 (or maybe even 2k) to 5k was so big that they don't feel that doubling their distance is going to be achievable. 

The good news is that learning to run further is more than just the physical ability and mental toughness. The lessons you've learned about pacing, recovering and routines are far more important than your god given ability or inability to run. 

You have learned to run and if you build up gradually then you'll find the progress no more uncomfortable than Couch to 5k. Instead of building by 2 minutes each week you'll be jumping up by 1k for a few weeks then dropping back a kilometre. 

This wasn't possible when you started Couch to 5k but you're a new person now. Do not let confidence or fear of failure hold you back or you could find yourself in the same mental state as you felt before starting the Couch to 5k. 

Benefits of staying around 5k

Less time consuming on the weekend run

You may just want to continue with runs taking less than an hour in which case increasing distances beyond 7, 8 and 9k will likely mean taking longer than you’d like out of your weekend run.

Less perceived pressure

The pressure to progress may feel more apparent when building up to 10k because there can be a fear that you’re not going to be able to achieve it. Training towards a faster 5k may seem less intimidating from this perspective but can also lead to a loss of momentum.

you Get to run faster

This benefit is only relevant for the long run as mid week runs do not need to change when progressing towards 10k. In dedicating your weekend run to 5k training you will run faster because you won’t be running for as long.

Your 5k times will not necessarily improve faster than if you were training towards 10k because your endurance gains will be limited thanks to the shorter runs you’re doing on the weekend.

Benefits of Progressing to 10k

Endurance before speed

Athletes of all ability are coached to build endurance before speed. This increases the amount of speed work they can put in later on thanks to a bigger gas tank. When that gas tank is big enough is down to the individual but if you’d ever like to run 10k then doing it straight after your 5 is highly recommended.

Limited to running 5k or less

If you don’t work on progressing beyond 5k then you’ve got far less options for runs in training. Assuming you opt to run a round distance then your options become 3k, 4k or 5k. If a friend suggests you go out together you’ll be worried about how far they want to go and could even develop a mental block around running further.

Fewer options for events

There are so many great events which require you to run, walk, climb and crawl your way over 5k these days. Limiting yourself to just 5k closes many of these options off and can quickly leave you lacking in motivation.

More Stressful on the Body

Running fast puts more stress through your muscles and joints. In opting to focus purely on 5k speed you’re choosing to do more runs which put your body through these forces. One benefit of having a long run each week is that it slows you down and allows your body a lower impact workout which is still improving your running fitness.

More plateaus

Fitness plateaus are hard to break but unless you vary your workouts you’ll run into a plateau much faster than when building distance. Run a 5k each weekend or multiple times each week and your body will get better at running 5k but then struggle to achieve anything else.

In building distance once a week you’ll enable more variation and avoid fitness plateaus.

Less opportunities to progress

If you choose to stay around the 5k distance then it’s important to vary each run, just like you did in your Couch to 5k plan. Progress feeds our motivation but can only continue if we change the variables such as distance and speed in a gradual fashion.

I chose to go straight from 5K achievement to 10K training as I was so pleased with my achievement of completing 5K having never run before and not knowing what my body would be capable of. Conor also said I would probably find it hard to maintain motivation without a new challenge. He was probably right!

Marie Harris

Couch to 10k in 22- weeks

Which is for you?

It’s very rare that I’d recommend someone, who is injury free, opt to stop building distance after completing their Couch to 5k Programme but if you feel the need to build speed before 10k training then look out for our members only post "Training for a Faster 5k after Couch to 5k".

About the Author

Conor is the Head Coach and Founder of Cheltenham Running Club. His experience as a Strength & Conditioning Coach, Triathlete and Personal Trainer ensure members are educated on best practice in regards to training progression while also nurtured through the early stages of fitness development.

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